Some of the names on the first page of the leader board are veterans—Sergio Garcia, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler. But some other guys are getting their first taste of Sunday pressure at Augusta National.
Everybody knows players like Charley Hoffman,Thomas Pieters, Jon Rahm and WIlliam McGirt can hit good shots. But can they do it under completely different mental and emotional conditions?
Top Alabama teacher Tony Ruggiero knows exactly what they're about to go through. He works with Smylie Kaufman, who played in the final group at last year's Masters as a rookie. "It's one of the most challenging experiences in golf, because there's nothing you can compare it to," says Ruggiero, who is based at the Country Club of Mobile. "When you're in one of those last groups on Sunday, you go off so late. You finished late the night before, and you're trying to get all the right food and sleep in, and then you wake up in the morning and sit around and wait."
Because a comparatively few people make the cut (top 50 and ties), the attention on the lead groups is just magnified. "When you step onto the property at 1 p.m., it's like you're walking into a stadium," Ruggiero said. "I remember a text I got from [teacher] Mike Adams on Saturday night. He said there was nothing anybody could say that would help you get ready. You just have to experience it."
You won't have 10,000 people lining the first fairway when you play in your next important match, but struggling with the pressure of a new experience is still real no matter what your handicap is. The goal is to find your rhythm--and not to panic if you make an early mistake. "Everything goes faster when you're under pressure, so you have to work hard to slow everything down," Ruggiero says. "It's natural to get excited. When you do, you go faster, and you make mental mistakes."
Part of why you see familiar names like Fred Couples do well at Augusta year after year is because they know the course and understand the rhythms. "Fred plays so well there because he knows he's going to make bogies, but he doesn't overreact to them. He knows there will be other opportunities, and other players are going to play tough holes too. The new guys try to force the action--something I see all the time in club golf. A player will make bogies on No. 1 and 2, then try to make a hero shot on 3 to get it all back—and end up making a double."
It sounds like simple advice, but it will certainly be a challenge tomorrow afternoon. "You really do have time," Ruggiero says. "Relax and play your way into the round."